This is a fun activity to do when at the cottage or local park. As it can be challenging for little hands, it is more suitable for older children or adults to do for a child. Cattails tend to be very plentiful and are not on any species at risk list at the time of this being written. Still, if they are not on your property, be sure to check for permission to cut leaves as some parks and trails prohibit the picking of any plants.
Materials Needed :
Scissors or knife
This is a bit fiddly so it will help if you read all the instructions through before you begin.
Cut some cattail leaves as low as you can safely cut. It helps to get some of the white found low on the plant.
Take the top end of the leaf (the thinner end) and about 3-4” down, fold to make an approximate 90 degree angle. It’s typically easier to start with this end as it is lighter and won’t make the boat/duck top heavy and inclined to tip over when on the water.
Then about 2” along, fold the cattail, so it is going in the direction back towards the start.
And now just fold around and around until you have a wide enough body. The wider it is, the better the boat or duck will float.
When you have about 5 or 6” left on the leaf, wrap the end around just enough so that you can tuck the end up or down through one of the spaces between folds.
You will probably want to tuck it up for a duck’s tail and down for a boat’s keel or rudder. It can be a bit fiddly but no matter how dire the situation, keep breathing and you will find a gap, either with prodding the leaf or, if that’s not working, widening a gap a bit with your fingers first. It will help if you hold the leaf (where the wrapping ends and the twisting around begins) against the body while you fiddle with the end bit. Still holding down, once you have tucked the end bit through, pull it all the way so it stays snug.
Trim the tail on the duck (or keel/rudder on the boat) as desired. For the duck, you can cut at an angle and you can make little slits to give a feathery look. Trim slowly, in increments, partly so you get the look you want. You may also want to trim near the water so you can keep testing the boat/duck’s balance as you go.
Now it’s time to shape the top. If it is a boat, you may want to fold the top back down to make an upside-down ‘V’ to give the look of a sail. If you are making a duck, you may want to fold over the top or even make a gentle knot, to show the top of the duck’s head and bill. Use your scissors to shape the bill if you wish.
Go sailing! Place your cattail craft in the stream or pond or even your bathtub (you may want to rinse the cattail off first) and enjoy!
Note: We made our cattail creations late in the autumn, so the cattails were not as green as they are in warmer weather.
Photos: Melissa Lefebvre and Sarah Coulber, CWF